Master's Project Title:

Alcohol: Timing of Exposure and Breast Cancer Risk A Critical Literature Review

MCH Student:

Elizabeth Jacobson

Date of Defense:

September 5, 2012


Background: Breast cancer continues to be the leading cause of cancer death among females around the world. Researchers state even one alcoholic beverage per day increasing breast cancer risk by 7-30%. Alcohol consumption is particularly relevant from a public health standpoint as it is common practice throughout the life span. Additionally, studies indicate alcohol may be most detrimental during age periods of breast growth such as thelarche and around the time of first delivery.

Objective: Examine the association between timing of alcohol exposure (age at beginning alcohol consumption, consumption at specific age-intervals, and lifetime cumulative or average intake) and breast cancer risk.

Methods: A systematic review of literature was conducted using articles found through the PubMed database. Literature from 01/01/1995-05/31/2012 that specifically addressed time of alcohol consumption and its association with breast cancer risk were included.

Results: Of the 20 articles chosen for review, 12 studies found some statistically significant findings. However, overall there is a lack of strong association between timing of alcohol exposure and breast cancer risk as many of the studies had numerous methodological weaknesses.

Conclusions: Age at start of alcohol consumption, alcohol consumption at specific age intervals, and cumulative or average lifetime intake of alcohol is not strongly associated with breast cancer risk. The results of this review may be falsely reassuring to current adolescents and young adults and points to the need for future studies with sound methodology and prospective longitudinal collection of exposure data.